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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Rx for office clutter

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to The Sun

A cluttered desk makes for a cluttered mind.

I don't know if anyone famous has ever said that, but they should have. It's often the way I feel when faced with the stacks of papers, errant sticky notes and half a dozen pens scattered across my desk.
Home Office Mentors

Elizabeth Verwey knows all too well how this feels -- she's built a business out of rescuing entrepreneurs from the clutches of disorganization.


"If you don't have a plan, you're just moving from crisis to crisis, and not really accomplishing anything," says Verwey, founder of Home Office Mentors (

Verwey has helped more than 200 entrepreneurs reprioritize and improve how they run their businesses. She visits their offices and offers a tailored prescription for anti-clutter, which focuses on time management, enhancing physical space and implementing business systems.

Time management

"Time management is about planning the rocks, the main responsibilities of the business, and mapping them out," Verwey says.

Verwey says many business owners make the mistake of not setting long-term goals. Without any direction, she says, it's easy to waste time on less important tasks. Establishing your primary goals, and placing them high on your agenda, she says, keeps you on a focused track.

Staying on that track also requires consistent, detailed and daily planning, she says.

"Every day of the week should have a focus, each morning and afternoon should have its own focus," she says.

She recommends choosing one set time each week to plan the upcoming week's activities, and then breaking down each day with a to-do list.

"If you can follow a to-do-list, you'll make much better use of time, and know where to start the next morning."

One of the biggest time-wasters, Verwey says, is e-mail. She advises completing one important task each day before even checking e-mail. She also suggests turning off your e-mail notification bell, and checking only a few times a day to avoid becoming distracted.

"It totally leads to lost priorities. It breaks your focus, and you have to start all over," she says. "The message will still be there when you're ready for it."


A common feature of many small business offices, Verwey says, is the misuse of space, which leads to ongoing clutter syndrome. Verwey offers her clients a general rule to follow: "If you're using something daily, it should be on your desk. What's being used monthly goes behind closed doors."

And whatever does go on your desk should be in easy reach -- less straining for objects means more time saved.

Your workspace should be conducive to your getting things done efficiently, Verwey says. This could be as simple, she says, as using a headset when you're on the phone so your hands are free to do other things.

Verwey often uses a computer as a model when helping clients organize their offices.

"We try to structure the office to reflect the organization of the computer; for example, clearing out your inbox is critical to staying on top of your workload."


Every company, Verwey says, needs a set of business systems in place -- the plans by which you run the different facets of your company.

"One thing you need to have is a prospecting system. How do you meet clients? How do you keep in touch with current clients so they can send referrals? You need to have a consistent marketing plan, even when you're really busy, so that don't have periods of drought."

Verwey recommends mapping out marketing goals a year ahead, in order to plan time-specific initiatives such as seasonal newsletters or special events.

One approach Verwey endorses is creating an operations manual of your business.

"This works well for a one-person operation," she says. "It consists of passwords, certain protocols and so on, so if you bring in someone to help you, it's all laid out for them."

Having a consistent accounting system that's easy to decipher is also important, Verwey says. It makes the whole process smoother during the year, and will save you time if you happen to be audited.

Finally, Verwey says, staying on track requires recharging -- don't forget to reward yourself for a job well done.

"I find too many people work way too hard and burn themselves out. We've got to get away from our businesses from time to time to refresh and recharge ourselves in order to come back and work at full capacity."

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